What's gone wrong on Dublin's O'Connell St?

On a dark and dirty side street, a person in his early 40s stood quietly, together with his face and body pointed into a decent corner.

He was polite, wearing clean clothes, and carrying a bag from a widely known sports retailer. He was also high and smoking crack cocaine.

It was barely 9am on a Wednesday in September, and Dublin city centre was buzzing with drug users, many on their strategy to the GPO to gather social welfare payments before scoring off drug dealers dotted along O’Connell Street and the realm around it.

“Do you would like a shot of it?” the person asked, putting out his hand to supply his crack pipe.

“It’s crack,” he said. “You’d prefer it.”

The tiny, white piece of crack cocaine – a “rock”, because it’s known in the dead of night and lonely world of drug addiction that now besets the capital – cost the person €20, he told Prime Time.

The lane is riddled with used needles, cigarette lighters and other waste generated by the individuals who use it to get high, within the shadows, mere metres from Ireland’s most famous street.

This man spent €20 on a so-called “rock” of crack cocaine

“Do what I’ll do? I’ll provide you with a rock now and wait until you see what it tastes like,” the person said.

His proffer roundly rejected, the person lit up and sheltered from the breeze because the flames rose from his crack pipe.

O’Connell St is a gorgeous thoroughfare. Long, wide and imposing, it’s lined with the statues of iconic figures in history, and anchored by the enduring GPO.

It’s here that the fight for Irish freedom was focused throughout the 1916 Rising.

Though the road is ostensibly Ireland’s Champs-Élysées, it’s a shadow of its former self. As a consequence of a bitter planning row, several properties on one side lie idle. Vast sections of the road appear abandoned and derelict.

On the face of it, O’Connell St is a busy one. The Luas criss-crosses the road, and buses pour out and in. But, in lots of senses, it’s a liminal space – somewhere people just go through.

That may be a symptom of the road’s current predicament. But it is usually, in line with experts who’ve studied O’Connell St, a part of the diagnosis.

“It’s broken-window syndrome,” Dawn Russell, of the Ana Liffey Drug Project, told Prime Time.

“When you create an area that doesn’t have a diversity of business, that does not have urban artworks and nice places for people to take a seat and to socialize with each other, you effectively strip all of that away,” she said.

On the face of it, O’Connell St is a busy one, but many individuals simply go through it

Regardless of the cause, the drug problem on O’Connell St feels much more prevalent here than in every other a part of the town.

Ms Russell said that the people selling the drugs are sometimes addicts themselves, and plenty of of them are personally known to her.

The dealers, she said, are sometimes feeding their very own habits or paying off family debt. But, ultimately, the actual linchpins give the realm a large berth.

“The people who find themselves behind this are either not on this island or they’re definitely not living within the north inner city,” Ms Russell said.

On one other day, mid morning, two men walked up O’Connell St. For a time, they shared the shelter of the GPO’s portico with two gardaí, law enforcement and law breakers strolling side by side.

The boys delayed their arrival at the highest of Henry Street to avoid the glare of the gardaí.

But they soon approached three men perched against a big flower box at the highest of Henry St. The drug deal was done inside seconds, and the unique pair quickly scarpered down a notorious alleyway that runs parallel to O’Connell St.

“There may be all the time trouble and, to be honest, there are never any police around,” said Paul Stanley, who sells flowers under the Spire.

O’Connell Street is anchored by the enduring GPO

Five generations of his family have been flower sellers – a lot of them arrange shop beneath Nelson’s Pillar, the big granite column that loomed over what was then Sackville Street until it was destroyed in March 1966.

Mr Stanley said that a few of his oldest and most loyal customers don’t even come into town anymore.

“They don’t feel protected, especially on O’Connell St,” he said.

In his eyes, Dublin City Council needs to be held responsible. But so too should the gardaí, whose enforcement leaves so much to be desired, he said.

So far as Mr Stanley is anxious, TDs only make flying visits to O’Connell St, visits he said which might be akin to “drive-by shootings”.

“They’re are only going straight through it. That’s it. That’s how bad it has gone here,” he said.

Not removed from Mr Stanley’s flower stand is The Joyful Ring House, alternately often called McDowells jewellers. One in every of the road’s oldest businesses, McDowells has felt the impact of what has unfolded on the road.

Founded in 1870, McDowells moved to its current perch on O’Connell St in 1902. Its doorman was killed throughout the 1916 Rising.

For Noel Kelly, who manages the jewellers, the present approach to policing is certainly one of the road’s big failings.

Dublin City Council said it invests “significant manpower and funds” in the maintenance of the road

“The major issues are loitering, vagrancy, and begging. They go unabated on the road,” Mr Kelly said.

The problems, he said, have multiplied since now we have emerged from the Covid lockdowns.

“What we see is the shortage of policing on the road.”

Mr Kelly believes that Dublin City Council should arrange a “proper” council for central Dublin, a form of task force that would address the issues.

“If we don’t see it from Government level or gardaí, we are going to see more vagrancy, more loitering and we are going to see the issue just proceed. Those problems just won’t go away – they must be handled,” he said.

Despite the widespread criticism of policing in the realm, gardaí do have a consistent presence on the road. And An Garda Síochána insists it’s doing all it may well the address the problems.

As a part of a special operation to cope with anti-social behaviour in the town centre, a spokesperson noted that gardaí have made 3,336 arrests, that 6,033 charges have been brought, and that €3.2 million value of illicit drugs seized – all inside the policing district that features O’Connell St.

In an interview with Prime Time, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said that the special operation, often called Operation Citizen, could be “relaunched” and “re-energised” inside the following fortnight.

In a press release, Dublin City Council told Prime Time that it invests “significant manpower and funds” in the maintenance of the road.

Luas trams criss-cross O’Connell St, and buses pour out and in

The council insisted that its cleansing and maintenance regime was “robust” and added that a “deep clean” of O’Connell Bridge was planned for this month.

It also said a scheme to scale back emptiness levels and improve the “vitality and character of the road” had been prolonged to 2028.

But it surely’s hard to get away from the straightforward facts: Drink- and drug-fueled brawls are commonplace on O’Connell St. So too is open drug dealing.

Guarantees to open a police station on the road, meanwhile, appear to have suffered a setback.

In April, Ms Helen McEntee announced that a recent Garda Station could be opened on the road inside just a few months.

Roll on six months and planning permission has just been granted to convert the derelict constructing for gardaí.

However the force has clarified to Prime Time that it can not actually be a Garda Station, but slightly a Garda Liaison Office specializing in assisting tourists and giving advice to the general public.

While An Garda Síochána said it was not clear when the office could be opened, the Office for Public Works told Prime Time that works on the constructing wouldn’t be accomplished until the primary quarter of 2023, nearly a 12 months after Ms McEntee first mooted the proposal.

Ms McEntee acknowledged to Prime Time that its opening had taken “a bit longer” than expected. But she said that Operation Citizen could be based at the brand new Garda office.

Litter is an enormous problem within the areas surrounding O’Connell St

She also noted that recent community safety wardens could be assigned to O’Connell St and the encompassing area.

“They’ll be reporting back to Dublin City Council, and they’ll act as a go-between and attempting to resolve issues, but in addition where they see criminality happening that they will alert it to the Gardaí,” she said.

For Dawn Russell, the issues of O’Connell St are literally rooted elsewhere.

“What we see from an addiction treatment perspective and housing perspective is that individuals from everywhere in the country flood to Dublin for support, because they don’t feel welcomed in their very own communities,” she said.

“It’s not right that everybody should must congregate within the capital city for basic health support,” Ms Russell said, noting that individuals with addiction issues needs to be supported in their very own communities across the country.

The drug problem on O’Connell St feels more acute, she noted, because there’s little else happening on the road at certain times of the day.

“It happens in Temple Bar, it happens on the quays on the south side of the town. It happens on Grafton St. But you do not see it as baldly as you do on O’Connell St because other life is occurring around it as well,” she said.

Without some renewal, Mr Stanley cannot imagine a sixth generation of his family selling flowers under the Spire.

“I don’t see it myself. Unless things change or improve,” he said. I’d wish to think there might be, but God knows.”


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